In the [Israeli 1948] War of Independence, I served as an infantry soldier in the religious platoon in the 22cnd division of the Carmeli Brigade. Our company commander assembled the company, and announced the that IDF and Hagana Chief of Staff had ordered us to squash an insurgence by the “Etzel” – a boat full of ammunition and Etzel soldiers was arriving. He threatened us that we needed to follow every single order, including opening fire, if so commanded. Insubordination would be dealt with extremely harshly.Printed in this past week's Makor Rishon by Chagai Segal -- a letter received from Ben Zion Abudi, an 80 year old Yerushalmi who served in the Hagana. The impetus for this letter was the refusal of IDF soldiers to evict Jewish families from Jewish owned property in Hevron. [The Hebrew article is not online yet, I translated it from the printed copy]
The religious platoon was the only one in the company, perhaps the only one in the Brigade. We inspired shock and awe. I will mention that our company, specifically our platoon were very battle experienced. We labored tirelessly, with unparalleled mesirut nefesh, and through the help of Hashem we had many successes -- the conquests of Haifa, Ako, Bazet, Ramat Yochanan, the Hula Valley, and more. Afterwards, we fought in the Jordan Valley, Jenin and others. We all served in the “Hagana” and were drafted in January 1948. Our platoon was the pride of the company and brigade, and we paid for that honor with the lives of our fighters and many wounded.
The orders about the “Altalena” reached us when we were up North, far away from Tel Aviv. Our platoon got on the bus in silence. There was no rabbi or spiritual leader that told us to refuse orders. The refusal was not as a collective, but each and every one individually, according to their conscience. I will note that Religious Zionism at the time (Mizrachi and Hapoel Mizrachi) was aligned with Mapai, specifically, “Red Haifa.” The leaders of the Religious Zionist movement saw eye to eye with Mapai on matters of security, settlement and social welfare.
During the ride on the bus to the Altalena, I contemplated the predicament, and deicded that I would not fight against my brothers, and if G-d forbid the time would arrive [and the order came] I would remove the firing pin from my rifle. Our luck improved and the drive from the North to Tel Aviv was drawn out, so that when we arrived at Tel Aviv, the Altalena was already burning. Every explosion [from the ship] flayed our skin, as we knew that the [destroyed] weapons and ammunition were desperately needed for the war [of Independence]. In the Hagana camp across from the Altalena, thousands of soldiers arrived from all battlefronts. There were fierce Palmach fighters, bearded and dirty, battle scarred “Negev Fighters” who arrived for this holy mission with rejoicing and merriment. The education they received from their mother’s womb was a hatred of religious Jews, the Etzel, the Lechi, and anything that had the fragrance of an international anthem: “The old world will be destroyed to its foundations.” Their faces beamed with happiness when they saw the boat explode and hundreds of Etzel soldiers taken captive and imprisoned in the camp. I saw the young innocence on the faces of the captives, scarred by fire -- they came with the ship to fight for the Jewish State. I heard that many of them died in battle after being conscripted into the IDF – thrown into battle without knowing the language and without appropriate training.
We returned back to our regular duties, and we didn’t discuss the subject, but our hearts were broken.
Points to ponder:
1. Mapai's intense hatred of religious soldiers and religion -- even at the expense of losing Jerusalem in 1948 to the Jordanians. Sixteen unarmed Jewish Etzel soldiers were killed while swimming to shore.
2. Religious soldiers don't need a Rabbi to dictate what's right or wrong -- and are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusions.
Rashi writes on the pasuk, Yosef was thrown into a pit by his brothers that was "empty and had no water in it." Why the double language, obviously if the pit is empty, it has no water in it. Rashi answers, "there was no water in the pit...but there were snakes and scorpions in it." Nature abhors a vacuum -- if you don't fill a pit with it's natural filler (water), then it will be filled with other things. (hat-tip; R' Shlomo Riskin)
If Eretz Yisrael isn't filled with Jews who strive to observe the Torah and mitzvot, (or at a minimum, love their fellow Jew as themselves), then it will be filled with others.
You too can be part of the solution.
Jameel @ The Muqata.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael